Constitution Day Trivia Tidbits

constitutionSeptember 17 marks Constitution Day, the day in 1787 on which delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the United States Constitution. Yesterday, the ABA Journal posted an interesting article to celebrate. The article contains 10 lesser-known facts about our Constitution, including these:

  • Most voters today would not have had the right to vote under the original Constitution. Voting rights were limited to propertied white males.
  • The word “God” never appears in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The source of all government power is in “the People.”
  • The word “democracy” never appears in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton claimed in the Federalist Papers that democracies were a disaster.
  • The First Amendment was not originally first. It started out as the third. For that matter, the Second Amendment was not originally the second. The original first and second amendments dealt with the size of Congress and with issues relating to Congress’s pay.

See here for the rest of the facts, and test your knowledge of the Constitution with the short quiz How well do you know the U.S. Constitution at the bottom of the page. It’s not as easy as you’d think! Next week, I’ll post on Professor Chad Oldfather’s interesting Constitution Day presentation on constitutional interpretation.

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Gender-Neutral Pronoun on the Rise?

In English, there are three main singular pronouns: he, she, and it. When we’re talking or writing about people, we eschew it; after all, it suggests a non-human subject. This leaves us with he or she, which often are easy to use. We use he for male subjects and she for female subjects.

This is all easy enough, but there are two times when neither he nor she seems the right word choice. The first is where the gender of the subject does not matter. This situation comes up frequently in legal writing. In explaining a rule of law, we often need to include a pronoun. For example, For a plaintiff to maintain a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, he must prove the defendant’s conduct is extreme and outrageous. In that sentence, we want a singular pronoun to “match” our singular subject noun of “plaintiff.”

Writers are conscious of which pronoun to choose. Many are afraid if they pick the male pronoun—he­—they will be perceived as sexist. One easy fix to avoid picking a pronoun at all is to make the subject “plaintiff” plural so that we can use the plural pronoun “they” (e.g., For plaintiffs to maintain a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, they must prove the defendant’s conduct is extreme and outrageous.). But sometimes that doesn’t work well or we’d rather keep the subject singular. What to do then?

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Wisconsin’s State Motto: Forward or Backward? The Potential Demise of Open Records Law

In 1851, the state of Wisconsin adopted the simple word Forward as its state motto. It’s a powerful word that has symbolized the State’s progressive history. Lately, though, it seems like we’ve been going backward rather than forward. Case in point: open records law.

Wisconsin’s open records law has been around since 1981. Embodied in sections 19.31-19.39 of the Wisconsin Statutes, the law begins with a broad declaration of policy: “all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.” Wis. Stat. § 19.31. The law “shall be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of governmental business. The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.” Id.

Open records law is consistent with transparency in government. Brett Healy, president of the conservative think-tank MacIver Institute, said, “Transparency in government is not a liberal or conservative issue, it is a good government issue. Taxpayers deserve access to government records, so they can keep politicians all across this great state honest and accountable.”

And the law has been used to do just that.

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